On my nineteenth birthday, I woke up with a splitting headache and a tickle in my throat. Thinking that dehydration was the culprit, I washed down some Tylenol with a glass of water and went back to sleep. To my demise, I began a journey I thought I steered clear from. As it turns out, the infamous “kissing disease,” known in the medical community as infectious mononucleosis, or mono, coursed through my lymphatic system. I couldn’t do anything about it.
I have a kickass immune system. I tackled strep throat one summer with ease after one round of antibiotics. Naturally, I thought the stronger the better, right? But mono hit me like a train, literally and figuratively. I did a play-by-play of my entire Christmas break trying to figure out when I could have possibly contracted the virus. Go figure, the one time I drank out of my brother’s thermos I got sick. I went back to school for J-Term with an enlarged spleen and swollen lymph nodes. But despite not being able to dance for two months and also contracting strep throat, mono made me a better student.
I wish someone would have told me that getting sick in college is way different than getting sick at home. Your dog isn’t there to snuggle up with you while you watch Netflix, your mom can’t bring you hot soup and a cold rag to bring your fever down and you can certainly forget about your friends checking in on you.
“I’ll catch you guys later. I’m going into quarantine.” I joked with my friends, but I felt highly concerned with my overall health. If I went to school in Florida, I might have been okay. Instead, I drudged through five feet of snow every morning at 7:30 across campus to get to class. The fatigue almost made me crack and left me completely unmotivated to go back after the first day. If my eyes weren’t watering from the below freezing temperatures outside, they would in class with each letter I wrote on my paper. My doctor warned me that mono would deplete my energy, but I didn’t think it would be this bad.
By the end of the first week back to class, I wanted to give up. My muscles ached from fatigue, I couldn’t eat and, to top it all off, I woke up to my roommate having sex with her boyfriend in the middle of the night. However, I found time to get to the library to study. I wrote up an agenda for every day so I wouldn’t fall behind in class. I made sure to practice my dissection skills just in case I had to throw up in class.
By week three, the pain in my throat made it impossible to concentrate in class. I had no voice to answer questions in class, which made me stress out about my participation grades. Not to mention, we began learning about how the lymphatic system regulates how bacteria and debris flow through our bodies; when they become swollen, it means they’ve trapped some nasty stuff to get rid of. I had three swollen lymph nodes at the time, which my teacher graciously asked me to show to the class. If the mono wasn’t enough to kill me, the embarrassment was a close second.
By week four, the feeling of being homesick kicked in. I felt like a robot zombie. I cried every night while studying for my biology exams. I couldn’t focus on anything except for the feeling of glass in my throat and the pounding headaches from the bright lights of the library. Despite all these negative feelings, I knew I had to get out of my bed. My tests weren’t going to study themselves and ironically enough, I felt better when I kept myself busy. After all, the nights I forced myself to stay awake to study veins, arteries, the ATP cycle, you name it, blossomed me into a new and improved college kid. I finished the class with an A.
Although having mono created a tedious month for me, the highly contagious virus actually improved my GPA. Sure, I could have emailed my professor and withdrew from the class, but I used my broken immune system to my advantage. I walked every day through the snow and negative windchill, books in hand, ready to tackle the six long hours of biology, and I came out on top. I learned that maintaining a positive outlook on the situation and trying to find the best during the worst time helps when you want to turn into that couch burrito. Even when I physically felt like I couldn’t keep going, I mentally made myself get through it. Now I’m ready for any curve ball that college life throws me.